Salvadoran court reopens investigation into the killing of 6 priests in 1989

The Supreme Court of El Salvador has ordered the reopening of the investigation into the massacre of six Jesuit priests in 1989, an incident that has sparked international anger

Since the High Court declared in 2016 that the amnesty established after the 1993 war was unconstitutional, efforts in El Salvador to investigate and prosecute the planners of killings during the civil war have been diverted by legal exercises.

The lower court ruled that it can continue to investigate the alleged involvement of a group of military officers and former President Alfredo Cristiani in the killing. But when the police officer appealed to the Supreme Court in 2019, the investigation was put on hold.

Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado (Rodolfo Delgado) has pushed for a retrial of the case and welcomed Wednesday’s ruling.

“The case will be heard again,” Delgado wrote on his Twitter account. “We will track down those responsible and bring justice to these despicable killings.”

On November 16, 1989, an elite commando team killed six priests—five Spaniards and one Salvadoran—and their butler and butler’s daughter at the priest’s residence. The murderers tried to make the massacre look like it was carried out by left-wing guerrillas.

Nine soldiers were initially tried, but the court pardoned seven of them. The two officers served a shorter sentence but were released after an amnesty in 1993. After the Supreme Court ruled that the amnesty was unconstitutional, a judge ordered one of the officers, Colonel Guillermo Benavides, to return to prison and stay there.

Although the case is deadlocked in the country, the Spanish court sentenced the former Salvador Colonel Inocent Orlando Montano to 133 years in prison in 2020 for killing the priest. The court stated that the massacre was “state terrorism” carried out by powerful interest groups including Cristiani, with the aim of “maintaining their privileged position in the power structure.”

The former president denied participating in or understanding the plan to kill the priest. Attempts to contact him for comment after Wednesday’s ruling were unsuccessful.